A Halifax Regional Police officer blocks a road during a march in Halifax in September 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Halifax police should be less involved in mental health response and traffic enforcement, they need better oversight, and the municipality should be spending more money on affordable housing.

Those are some of the takeaways from a new report coming to the city’s Board of Police Commissioners on Monday.

The report, “Defunding the Police: Defining the Way Forward for HRM” is the work of the board’s Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police, chaired by El Jones. The subcommittee held a public consultation session last summer, along with an online survey that received more than 2,000 responses.

As a definition of defunding, the authors, — Jones, Tari Ajadi, Harry Critchley, and Julia Rodgers — provide “four pillars of defunding:

  1. “Reforms to police practices, oversight, and accountability;
  2. “Reforms aimed at ‘detasking’ police and ‘retasking’ more appropriate community service providers;
  3. “Legislative, regulatory, and policy reforms intended to promote community safety; and
  4. “Financial reforms aimed at tying police budgets to clear performance metrics and encouraging public participation in municipal budgeting, with the ultimate intention of decreasing budgetary allocations to police and increasing allocations to community-based social services.”

The report goes on to make 36 recommendations directed to the board and/or Halifax regional council, all of which fit within those pillars.

Among the recommendations for the board: it should consider disarming some officers, direct Halifax Regional Police and RCMP to make their policies public, and reject body-worn cameras. For council, the report recommends it divert mental health calls to civilians only, take steps toward requesting drugs be decriminalized in HRM, and “significantly increase” spending on affordable housing projects.

Because the municipality is planning to commission its own report on alternatives to policing, due at the end of 2022, the subcommittee made recommendations to council to direct that review to look at detasking the police from some duties, like traffic enforcement. That report should “include an analysis of opportunities to civilianize the enforcement of motor vehicle offences and traffic-related bylaws, as well as the response to collisions where appropriate, within the municipality.” Likewise, it should “consider the development of a third-party sexual assault reporting program, either specifically in the municipality or in cooperation with the provincial government,” the subcommittee recommended.

Detasking does not necessarily mean that a function will be completely removed from the police,” the subcommittee’s report says. “In the case of sexual assault reporting, detasking means providing an alternative way for victims to report incidents of sexual violence, which encourages reporting and promotes public safety in a manner that complements, rather than replaces, existing policing functions.”

The report says, “defunding the police is not about making cuts to the police budget for austerity’s sake, but instead about reinvesting in vital, safety-promoting, community-building resources that have historically gone underfunded.”

As such, the subcommittee did not recommend a specific amount of money to be cut from the police budget, as Jones noted in a news release accompanying the report.

“We couldn’t do this without more data from the police and the municipality,” Jones said. “We would also have needed a fuller consultation with service providers, which was not a realistic option given our limited mandate and pressures on service providers from the pandemic. We also see the reallocation of municipal funds happening through participatory budgeting, and we didn’t want to take away from the community’s role.”

Notably, the subcommittee also avoided recommending in favour of more training for officers, citing two reasons.

“First, there’s no guarantee that any recommendations regarding training will be actually implemented,” the authors wrote.

“Second, there’s no guarantee that, even when training is implemented, it will be effective in achieving its stated purpose … Before the police can be asked to do more training, we need a better sense of the training they are doing now: what it is, how it is delivered, and whether it is meeting its stated purpose.”

The Board of Police Commissioners is scheduled to meet virtually at 12:30pm on Monday, and Jones has scheduled a news conference to talk about the report at 10am.

The full list of recommendations:

1. The Police Board should conduct a comprehensive independent review of all training programs delivered by the HRP and RCMP, with the aim of promoting transparency, accountability, and public confidence in the training police receive. At a minimum, this review should evaluate:
a. the effectiveness of training programs, both generally and specifically for officers with different years of experience;
b. the effectiveness of the annual “block” training model for the short- and long-term retention of knowledge and skills;
c. how decisions regarding training delivery are made, including:
i. which training programs are offered, when, for how many hours, and to how many officers;
ii. which training programs are optional or mandatory and why.

2. The Police Board should conduct research and consultation with community members, subject matter experts, and other relevant stakeholders to examine opportunities for:
a. disarming certain groups of officers, such as community response officers; and
b. minimizing the use of firearms by police generally.

3. The Police Board must provide meaningful oversight of the HRP and RCMP’s use of special weapons teams, long guns, riot gear, and other militarized equipment. This will require the Board to take steps:
a. to improve transparency regarding the circumstances when such equipment is and can be used; and
b. to reduce its use as much as possible.

4. The Police Board should conduct a comprehensive review of all use of force techniques currently employed by the HRP and RCMP with an eye toward establishing policies intended to minimize all types of use of force incidents

5. The Police Board’s review should examine opportunities for improving how the HRP and RCMP track and publicly report on use of force incidents. This aspect of the review should be informed by recommendations 3.1 and 3.2 of the Wortley Report, which recommended that a permanent data collection system be created to record information — including disaggregated race-based data — on all stops of civilians by police, as well as the CCJA Report, which identified the troubling lack of standardization across Canada in terms of how police collect and report data on use of force incidents.

6. The Police Board should direct the HRP to immediately make their policies and procedures publicly available online, as well as any standing orders or other directives that have superseded policies that are out of date. The Police Board should make the same recommendation to the RCMP.

7.Where policies and procedures are deemed to be confidential, the Police Board must ensure that the HRP or RCMP provide a publicly available explanation for each exempted section. These explanations must comply with the exemptions from disclosure provisions under section 475 of the Municipal Government Act, SNS 1998, c 18.

8. The Police Board must exercise its policy-making authority to implement policies that govern HRP, not just the Board itself, in keeping with the Board’s powers and statutory duties under section 55 of the Police Act.

9. The Police Board should play an active role in the HRP’s ongoing policy review. In doing so, the Board should consult with community members, subject matter experts (including legal experts), and other relevant stakeholders as part of a broadly public process.

10. In keeping with Recommendation 4.11 of the Wortley Report, the Police Board, in cooperation with Regional Council and representatives from the provincial government, including from the Department of Justice and the Human Rights Commission, should establish a committee to study the integrity of the current police complaints process. The results of this committee’s study should inform the review of the Nova Scotia Police Act recommended later on in this report.

11. If Regional Council’s review of the integrated HRP-RCMP policing model recommends keeping the RCMP in place, then the Police Board and Regional Council should advocate for the provincial government to establish a federal-provincial agreement to subject RCMP members in the province to the complaints procedure under Nova Scotia’s Police Act.

12. The Police Board should reject any additional funding requests in relation to body-worn cameras from the HRP or RCMP.

13. The Police Board and Regional Council should advocate for the provincial government to establish a special legislative committee dedicated to reforming the Police Act.

14. Regional Council’s “Alternatives to Policing” review should include a major analysis regarding possible opportunities to either partially or fully detask:
a. responding to incidents involving unhoused persons;
b. responding to incidents involving young persons;
c. responding to incidents of gender-based and intimate-partner violence;
d. responding to overdoses; and
e. responding to noise complaints.

15. Regional Council, in cooperation with the Police Board and the provincial government, to the extent necessary, should revise the Mental Health Mobile Crisis team model to ensure that mental health crisis calls are generally diverted to civilian-only teams. This model should also be explored for other social- or health-based emergency calls.

16. Regional Council should increase funding towards traffic-calming and safer-street infrastructure to reduce speeding and unsafe driving across the municipality;

17. Regional Council should continue to develop its active transportation network, as well as its transit rollout, to reduce the number of cars on the road;

18.Regional Council should improve street lighting on sidewalks and in residential neighbourhoods, as well as pedestrian infrastructure at crosswalks and other high-use traffic areas, to improve pedestrian safety in the municipality.

19. The Police Board, together with Regional Council, should advocate for the provincial government, through a legislative amendment or the drafting of regulations, to:
a. reduce the speed limit in residential districts to 40 kilometres per hour; and
b. grant Regional Council greater ability to set speed limits within the municipality without the need for case-by-case approval from the Provincial Traffic Authority or the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

20. Regional Council should direct that its “Alternatives to Policing” review include an analysis of opportunities to civilianize the enforcement of motor vehicle offences and traffic-related bylaws, as well as the response to collisions where appropriate, within the municipality;

21. Regional Council should direct that its “Alternatives to Policing” review consider opportunities to develop:
a. a civilian unit within bylaw enforcement to direct traffic at parades, protests, and other street closures, and/or
b. a training program for volunteers to provide a similar service in certain circumstances.

22. As a prerequisite for the development of civilianized traffic control teams, the Police Board, together with Regional Council, should advocate for the provincial government to:
a. permit civilian traffic control persons to direct the movement of traffic for special events through a legislative amendment or the drafting of regulations; and
b. update the province’s training and accreditation processes accordingly.

23. Regional Council should direct that its “Alternatives to Policing” review explore options for automating parts of its traffic enforcement infrastructure, including through the use of speed and red light cameras. This review must examine opportunities for housing these automation systems outside of police services and establishing mechanisms for oversight to ensure traffic laws are enforced equitably and in a manner that is consistent with protection of privacy legislation.

24. As a prerequisite for the development of automated traffic enforcement infrastructure, the Police Board, together with Regional Council, should advocate for the provincial government to proclaim the Traffic Safety Act, which is intended to replace the Motor Vehicle Act, RSNS 1989, c 293, in order to permit motor vehicle offence tickets to be issued to the registered owner, and not just the driver, of a vehicle.

25. Regional Council should direct that its “Alternatives to Policing” review consider the development of a third-party sexual assault reporting program, either specifically in the municipality or in cooperation with the provincial government. This aspect of the review should be conducted in consultation with, and build off the ongoing work of, HSART, SASNS, the HRM’s UN Women Safe Cities Safe Public Spaces Programme, and Women’s Advisory Committee. Such consultation is necessary to ensure that any TRP program ultimately developed is accessible, trauma-informed, and culturally competent.

26. Regional Council should examine opportunities to remedy funding gaps (including gaps in operational funding) in sexual assault prevention and response services in the municipality through the creation of a grant program.

27. As part of its ongoing efforts to develop a municipal drug and alcohol strategy, Regional Council should convene a multi-sector working group to advise on developing a health- and social equity-based approach to decriminalization, as a step toward requesting an exemption under the CDSA for the possession of all drugs for personal use in HRM.

28.Regional Council should establish a grant program for registered non-profit or charitable organizations in order to promote access to mental health and substance use services for Haligonians, with a particular focus on:
a. programs and services intended to address “gaps” in existing services by:
i. bridging the wait times between an initial intake appointment and actual treatment; and
ii. providing support to individuals who have been “discharged” from provincial treatment but are still in need of services; and
b. culturally and socially appropriate services for African Nova Scotians, Indigenous communities, and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

29. Regional Council must ensure that a human rights-based approach informs:
a. its Affordable Housing Work Plan, as well as any subsequent strategies or business plans to guide the municipality’s approach to affordable housing going forward; and
b. the long-term strategy to guide the municipality’s response to homelessness that will be developed in the 2021-22 fiscal year.

30. Regional Council must significantly increase its annual financial investment in affordable housing projects in the municipality so as to align its spending with other peer municipalities in Atlantic Canada, including by:
a.expanding the Affordable Housing Grant Program with the aim of distributing at least $1,000,000 to registered non-profit or charitable organizations annually by fiscal 2022/23. Regional Council should also consider relaxing the eligibility criteria for the program to permit non-profits to apply for funds to cover the cost of building maintenance, as well as staffing for supportive housing programs;
b. matching provincial and private contributions to Housing First in HRM, so as to increase the number of vulnerable and chronically homeless people the program can support;
c. in light of the fact that much of the federal funding available for affordable housing fails to meet measures of “deep” affordability,479 focusing municipal efforts on projects that aim to expand access to:
i.supportive housing programs;
ii. second-stage and transition housing;
iii.rent-geared-to-income housing options;
iv. co-operative housing; and
d. increasing the municipality’s capacity in regard to affordable housing service delivery, including by:
hiring additional staff and restructuring existing departments;
e. exploring options for creating an arm’s-length, third party entity, similar to the Halifax Partnership, that can directly engage in the construction and management of affordable housing projects.

31. The Police Board and Regional Council should aim to bring per capita spending on the HRP more closely in line with cities of comparable size and population across Canada, such as London, Ontario (especially in light of rising costs associated with the Halifax District RCMP).

32. The Police Board should exercise its full statutory authority in respect of funding, governance, and oversight to drive reforms to policing in HRM.

33. The Police Board and Regional Council should:
a. identify performance metrics for the HRP and RCMP, which should be informed by the recommendations of this report, the Wortley Report, Regional Council’s upcoming policing reviews, and further community consultation; and
b. tie their approval of at least some portion of the annual police budget request to the achievement of these metrics.

34. Regional Council should ensure that funds diverted from the police budget going forward are redistributed through participatory budgeting processes. Such processes could occur at multiple different “levels,” including:
a. geographic area (e.g., district-level, a combination of districts, or the entire municipality);
b. subject matter area (e.g., mental health and substance use, traffic safety, affordable housing);
c.community-specific (e.g., African Nova Scotians, Indigenous communities, and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities); and
d.any combination of the above.

35. Regional Council should direct that a new policy be drafted, which empowers and supports community members to design and convene participatory budgeting processes on their own terms.

36. Regional Council should explore opportunities to expand the use of participatory budgeting, as well as other enhanced public participation methods, as part of its annual Budget Committee process.

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Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. Good to see this – lots of good recommendations to work on. Here’s hoping they get worked on quickly, with genuine intent to follow them and with the resources needed.

  2. Regarding Item #14 and the proposal to again review if police should respond to noise complaints, many homeowners in the Dalhousie corridor had responded to the survey that this should not happen. Were our voices heard? When large groups of rowdy, drunken students are displaying antisocial behaviour, terrifying seniors, destroying property and disrupting our peace, who else would respond? Dalhousie does nothing, stating that any of their students who live off campus are not their problem. Denying our right to police is unjust. This is once again a bias against people who are perceived to be rich and white, just because they live in the university neighbourhoods. In reality, we’re a broad mix of students, middle class renters, families, seniors, etc. We just all want to live in peace and safety, and Halifax police help this to happen. Please revisit this dumb idea.

      1. I’ve lived at the same address near Dalhousie for almost 30 years. Police have always been who we have to call (the non-emergency number). Bylaw Services come when called about garbage and parking issues during daytime hours. Perhaps that’s the difference, but all information given out by police and the university is that we are to call police at the 490-5020 number. Pointing out again, that these very large gatherings are often groups of 40-50 very drunk and antisocial students – fighting, vandalism, defecation and urination in our driveways/laws, etc. – I don’t know anyone else who can handle a mob but police.

        1. 14. Regional Council’s “Alternatives to Policing” review should include a major analysis regarding possible opportunities to either partially or fully detask:

          e. responding to noise complaints.

          Note either “partially or fully detask.”

          There’s a difference between police responding to a noise complaint about a neighbour playing music too loud after 9:30 pm, and police responding to a complaint about very large street gatherings of (often 40-50) drunk, rowdy, unruly, fighting, vandalising, defecating, urinating students.

  3. Good report – except for cherry picking data in one area. Body worn cameras were the determining factor in convictions for the murder of George Floyd. Black and Indigenous people oppose defunding police. Governance will continue to be ineffective until the provincial government changes the Police Act and makes the Board an independent body with its own staff and free from the legal and administrative clutches of City Hall. Mayor Savage should become a member of BOPC like his colleague in Toronto.
    HRM is a violent place.

    1. I’m pretty sure the image of the police officer killing George Floyd was from a smart phone video taken by a bystander who kept telling the officer to get off Floyd’s neck. From what I have read, body camera’s in the US have not lessened the likelihood of illegal police violence.

      Some black and indigenous people oppose police de-funding. Millions who do support police de-funding took to the streets and many others are lobbying for it.

      We can continue to do things the same way and get increasing levels of violence from the police and the communities subjected to discriminatory treatment or we can make changes and try for better. This report seems like a good start. Unfortunately, I have no hope at all that HRM Council will do anything but window-dressing (as it has done following several adverse findings of discrimination) and the province is likely to be even less interested.

      Agree the Police Board should be independent of city hall but not that the Mayor should be on it.

    2. Consider the racism of thinking ‘Black and Indigenous people oppose defunding the police’. That this sets up homogenous groups that a person can simply know the opinions of.